Egypt: Civil disobedience and protests over Gaza

Since the beginning of the Israeli war on the Gaza Strip on December 27, and Egyptian street has been boiling with angry calls to open up the Gaza border and demanding the government to put more pressure to reach an immediate ceasefire.

Few people joined protests, others joined relief convoys or participated in collecting donations and organising campaigns, while others preferred to contributing to the ongoing war online.

On one hand, Salma Eldwardany discussed street reactions and protests in Egypt since the beginning of the Israeli attack, where significant clashes between Egyptian security forces and protesters downtown began on December 31:

In Cairo, several thousand Egyptians marched through downtown Cairo on December 31, chanting phrases such as, “Off to Gaza we go, martyrs by the million,” “Where is the Egyptian army?” and “Shame on you Mubarak”. […] Security forces began dispersing the crowds by force, and least 40 demonstrators were detained. Scores of others were beaten. […] Various sources confirmed that at least 300 activists were detained in Cairo on December 31, with over 160 activists arrested in train stations and cars on their way in to Egypt’s capital.

Between detained protesters to being beaten up in the streets, Egyptians didn't give up and joined the largest demonstrations, which prompted a harsher security response.

On Friday, January 2, two days after the police crackdown in Cairo, Egyptians took to the streets for the largest demo against the Israeli offensive.

The rally, organized by the Muslim Brotherhood, began near the Al Fatah Mosque in Cairo and urged the Egyptian government to open the border between Gaza and Egypt.

Special Forces units were mobilized and stationed on the street corners that led to various demonstration sites, and in the early afternoon, Egyptian police moved in to crush the dissent throughout the city. Eyewitnesses said that riot police used sticks to beat protesters in an attempt to disperse the crowd.

Egyptian police also seized three of the biggest downtown mosques before Friday prayers: Al-Fatah and Al-Azhar in Islamic Cairo, and Al-Nour Mosque in Elabbassyia district in northern Cairo. Police cordoned the downtown area with more than 200 vehicles.

Police also warned religious leaders at the Al-Fatah mosque against talking about Gaza during Friday prayers, witnesses said, also mentioning the spread of the state security laboratory on the roofs of buildings along Ramsis Street.

Still, about 5,000 protesters gathered at Al-Azhar mosque after Friday prayers, carrying placards that said, “Shame upon you, Arabs of silence.”

Central Security troops eventually entered the mosque with eyewitness accounts counting some 15-security vehicles surrounding streets around the mosque.

Police attacked the demonstrators and dozens of arrests were made including at least 40 members of the opposition Muslim Brotherhood who prepared for the Friday demonstrations.

Protests were not limited only to Cairo, the capital city of Egypt, but erupted throughout Egypt all the way from Alexandria to Minya, Assiut, Sohag Fayoum, Suez, Dakahliya, Qalubia, Port Said, Kafr El-Sheikh, Aswan, Munufeya and al- Arish. Egyptian security forces have also been targeting journalists as protests have continued unabated since Israel began its attack. About 200 journalists and activists have so far been arrested while covering the mass protests.

Protests were also not limited to artists or prominent activists or Muslim brotherhood party, but students and professors anger erupted everywhere. Salma continues:

Student demonstrations have also been taking place on campuses all over Egypt. Trade unionists, professors and students held mass demonstrations to condemn what they called the “Israeli war machine” and “The silence of the Arab states.”

A series of demonstrations have been held at Cairo University, but the security presence has been heavy with Egyptian authorities worried the students would take their anger to the nearby Israeli embassy.

Some 800 Muslim Brotherhood students at Helwan University have staged a continuous demonstration in solidarity with Gaza, and at Al-Azhar University more then 4,000 students have protested over the last week despite a heavy security presence that has prevented them from hitting the streets.

Ain Shams University was also the scene of two rallies this past week, one led by Dr. Ahmed Zaki Badr, President of the University, and the second by the Muslim Brotherhood student association.

Then she concludes it all with the a glimpse at the other diverse civic reaction:

As with protests throughout the Arab world, the demonstrations in Egypt have been diverse with people from a wide range of backgrounds taking part – secularists, Islamists, leftists, university students, journalists and others

Hundreds of artists, actors and writers organized a protest in Elgiza last week condemning the Israeli aggression. Protesters demanded an immediate halt to the export of Egyptian gas to Israel and expulsion of the Israeli ambassador. Khaled Elsawy, writer Fathia Elassal and Professor Ahmed Sakhsookh were some of the artists participating in the protest.

The Bar Association and the Medical Association have also organized demonstrations, and the Egyptian Popular Committee for Solidarity signed a petition demanding that Egyptian authorities open the Rafah crossing, the expulsion of the Ambassador of Israel.

The group has also called for the cessation of all forms of normalization with Israel, and they announced they would organize a convoy of relief to be sent to Gaza.

Meanwhile, Bjorklund, a Scandinavian activist living in Egypt, took part in a solidarity convoy to Rafah along with around 100 Egyptians and foreign activists. It was organized by the Egyptian Popular Committee for Solidarity with the Palestinian People, in order to demand the complete opening of the Egyptian-Gaza border. Though the convey did not reach the borders, however with a clever use of civil disobedience the caravan almost reached el-Arish before being turned back. According to the organizers this is closer to Rafah than any solidarity convoy of this scale has reached since 2004.

He started to explain:

The group of activists managed to force three checkpoints by staging sit-ins in the street, effectively blocking traffic and causing panic among the police as trailer trucks and minibuses lined up from both directions. At the fourth checkpoint however, about halfway between the Suez canal and el-Arish, state security officers was present. After forcing the reporters of two TV-channels to turn back to Cairo – for reasons that soon became obvious – they allowed the convoy the continue with a police escort. While many of the activists at this point felt they had won the battle and were about to enter el-Arish, this soon turned out to be a trap.

10-20 kilometers before el-Arish, in the middle of the desert, the road was blocked by 4 central security trucks and a small army of police in full riot gear, including some with rifles probably loaded with rubber bullets or tear gas. With no TV cameras or witnesses present, the activists feared (and rightly so) that they would be assaulted as soon as they stepped down from the bus. Some wanted to get out anyway, but the bus driver refused to stop or open the door. Shouting “I can't, I can't” he turned the bus around, clearly horrified by the scene and knowing he was risking as much as the activists – or more – despite having nothing do to with the convoy.

While most of the participants had expected to be turned back by the police and several have plenty of experience of being arrested at demonstrations, many were chocked by this show of force, and terrified by the prospect of being surrounded by riot police and plainclothes officers in the middle of the desert. And even those who would have preferred to try and at least make a symbolic stand in front of the bus feared this would only lead to the loss of all photo and movie material taken on the trip so far.

At the end of the trip, contributors had mixed feelings. Bjorklund continues:

On the way back to Cairo the mood on the bus consisted of mixed feelings of achievement – for reaching further than previous convoys – and anger and frustration.

“The thing that makes me most angry,” leftist blogger and digital design artist Mohamed Gaber explained, “is the fact that we celebrate the return of Sinai [after the 1973 October war] as a great victory, but still it doesn't belong to the people.”

At last, in her last post another Qualm, Egy Diva sums up her feelings towards the current Egyptian situation saying:

And when I read about thousands of demonstrations going on all over Egypt, spreading outside of Cairo, to Domyat to Sohag to Alexandria, I am impressed and I think I am wondering if I am filled with hope. But then I read that the Egyptian police dispersed these demonstrations with tear gas and electric batons, they beat the demonstrations apart, I dont think of Gaza. I think what the f***? and I think did anyone just notice that? And I think it should have its own article, it should be every article in every national newspaper. No, I think, in this convulated debate, Egyptian brutality in repressing demonstrations about Gaza shouldnt be engulfed in a piece about Gaza, and again I am pressed to think: so what about Gaza…..and it keeps. spirals, and spirals away.


Join the conversation

Authors, please log in »


  • All comments are reviewed by a moderator. Do not submit your comment more than once or it may be identified as spam.
  • Please treat others with respect. Comments containing hate speech, obscenity, and personal attacks will not be approved.